Small Robot Company deploys robots to help care for crop plants

The National Robotarium in the UK is a world-leading center for robotics and artificial intelligence. Experts from the National Robotarium and The James Hutton Institute will use the ‘Tom v4’ agritech robot from Small Robot Company to remotely scan agricultural fields to find, name, and log individual weeds and crop plants. Then, this information will be put through a complicated AI program to make a “treatment map” that tells farmers exactly how much herbicide to use and where to put it.

Herbicides and nutrients are often spread over whole fields as part of modern farming methods. The National Robotarium and The James Hutton Institute are working together on research that they think will help farmers use a lot fewer chemicals by only putting them on fields where there are weeds or crop pests.

In addition to finding out how well herbicides work, the research project will also collect and report data on each crop plant. This is called “per plant precision,” and it will help farmers keep track of plant numbers and health, including where they are and how likely they are to live. This will alert farmers to any areas that need help right away.

screenshot of a weed treatment map from the software.
A weed treatment map shows data collected by the robot. | Credit: Small Robot Company

Pesticides are used on about a third of the world’s agricultural goods. Herbicides are the most common type of pesticide. A new UN report says that the rate of food production will need to go up by 60% by 2050 because the world’s population will have grown to 9.3 billion.

The Data-Driven Innovation project, which includes the National Robotarium, is funded by the UK Government with £21 million and the Scottish Government with £1.4 million. The goal of the project is to make Edinburgh the data capital of Europe. It is part of a larger deal for the Edinburgh and South-East Scotland City Region that is worth £1.3 billion.

Lisa Farrell,  Business Development Manager at the National Robotarium said “With demand on the world’s food resources set to rise significantly, it’s even more important that robotics and AI play an increasing role in assisting modern agricultural practices. Per plant precision agriculture is a fantastic example of how technology can help us to be kinder to the environment whilst supporting Britain’s farming community to be more efficient, precise and productive. The National Robotarium continues to be a leading collaborative hub, bringing together academics and global companies. Working with partners like the James-Hutton Institute and forward-leaning start-ups like Small Robot Company, we can drive efficiencies, accelerate growth and deliver economic benefit to the UK’s agriculture sector and beyond.”

Andrew Christie, Agronomist and Agri-Tech Specialist at The James Hutton Institute said “Having the Tom v4 robot on site will expand our capabilities in terms of agricultural research and precision breeding. With possibilities for different cameras and AI models to be applied, the potential for this scientific tool is extensive and expansive. There will be lots of opportunities to explore new uses for the robot in research and it will add value to many of our research proposals going forward. Our first task will be to implement Tom in cereal trials to help develop and improve the precision of in-field phenotyping as part of our flagship initiative, the International Barley Hub, bringing a better understanding of crop characteristics to help us in our aim of producing the resource efficient and climate resilient crops of the future.”

Ben Scott-Robinson, Small Robot Company CEO, said: “Our Tom v4 robot can see every emerging plant, water droplet, worm midden and early disease outbreak – supporting farmers to know exactly what to treat and when, with minimal chemical use. This is world-first for scientific research and potentially transformational for plant science. We’ve worked closely with the farming sector to co-design our robot, developing an entirely new model for sustainable, efficient and profitable farming. The potential of this technology is phenomenal and the commercial purchase of our Tom robot by the National Robotarium and its subsequent loaning to The James Hutton Institute marks the start of a unique partnership. Together, we can advance research into how robotic technology and automated systems can support Britain’s agriculture and farming sectors to overcome industry challenges, drive sustainable practices and boost productivity.”

mike oitzman headshot.
Written by

Mike Oitzman

Mike Oitzman is Senior Editor of WTWH's Robotics Group, cohost of The Robot Report Podcast, and founder of the Mobile Robot Guide. Oitzman is a robotics industry veteran with 25-plus years of experience at various high-tech companies in the roles of marketing, sales and product management. He can be reached at